Sunday Scaries (7/27/20)

Hey everyone,

Just outside of Mount Rainier there is a small town called Ashford where property size is measured in miles instead of feet. Ashford sits in the shadow of a mountain that brings over two million visitors per year, but only two-hundred and seventeen full-time residents. This is where the median income is half the national average and the grocery stores double as gas stations. Here is the last stop before the wilderness takes over. Watch as the glaciers creep down from their peaks in July, daring anyone to utter the words “global warming.”

Imagine Ohanapecosh first, because it is where the story begins. The best way to see Ohanapecosh is to drive west from Spokane, down Route 12. Drive past the lake at Rimrock, where the reception is spotty and the roads are spottier. Continue past the families at Silver Beach, alike only in their unlikeness and love for denim in July. Turn right onto Route 123 and wave goodbye to the last of the motels with neon signs: “ESPRESSO - HOT AND DELICIOUS.”

Do not look for Ohanapecosh— roll down your windows and listen for it. Listen for the throaty rumble as the glacier melt swirls under the road, continuing for miles before dumping into the Cowlitz River, where it loses its identity but not its temperature.

An unmarked trail on the side of the highway will take you down to the base of Ohanapecosh, away from the traffic of the road and the warmth of the sun. The light disappears as you travel down into the forest, captured by the greedy canopy above. The trees here are old and old trees are selfish. The river feeds them and the sun, when it’s shining, provides the fuel to grow for thousands of years.

Ohanapecosh is a hidden place, but it is speaking if you’re willing to listen. Listen for the conversation between water and rock. Listen for that seismic movement among the trees. Listen for the song of insects and the splash of salmon leaping downstream. Listen for the life that has never once paused to listen to itself.

Ohanapecosh is the whisper of glaciers warming, yet the best quality of Ohanapecosh is not visible. The best quality has to do with the unseen — the apparent chaos of how nature can be so peaceful below the Ashford Ridge, where the Washington Highway Patrol is creating a rest area just in case anyone would want to stop and rest, while the churning volcano only a few miles away could consume the entire town in twenty-seven and a half minutes.

Ohanapecosh is a place to revel in the calm before the volcano goes off. This territory is borrowed land and, eventually, it will be asked for. It is a lesson in how things take one thousand years to wear away but ten minutes to be wrecked by humans. Stay for the night and watch the fog roll down the hills, swallowing the land in a warm, dark blanket.

Under the cloudy cover, Ohanapecosh loses its competition with the mountain and falls to its knees under black feathers. There is an omen in this collapse, but it is so normal in this place that only a trained observer could notice or appreciate it.

Turn west and you will find Ashford. Ashford seemingly catches all the cascading glaciers, rivers, and springs of Mount Rainier. It was born in the shadow of the mountain, and the entire town is built in this image. See the flatness of the hood, the rising shoulders? Look at those glaciers, growing thicker as they feed on each other. Notice the way the forest makes a shield against the burning rays of the sun, these trees drinking the cold stream, absorbing the snow, growing for thousands of years. When the wind is not blustering, it is a utopia. There is enough room for a man to build his home by the water’s side, away from the world, with wood he’s hewn by hand.

In Ashford, a highway-eating waterfall approaches the bridge into town. It is sandwiched by a motel, a cemetery, a gas station, and an RV park. These places make up the town. After driving through this commercial section, it is shocking how much space there is outside of the city limits. It is almost an hour of driving until there are any signs of others. Nature distributes humans into territories and demands absolutely no intrusion. Animal and human have survived this way and have inspired legends, myths, and folklore about the ratio of space to person.

The sentry of trees start to move as the highway dives into a small hollow, lined with secluded homes and smoking chimneys. It is the least populated neighborhood in Ashford, and if you were to somehow push through the thick brush of berry bushes and trunks, you would find the houses scattered like a crescent moon, dropping off to the last falling bridge.

This is my home for now, and I hope you can understand why.

This week’s subscribers only posts:

What’s New This Week

My partner Malcolm and I created something to help developers get started with GPT-3. Dolores is an open-source Python library that simplifies the process for finding useful prompts. It solves this problem by providing implementations of common examples right out of the box.

It’s easy to get started with just two lines of code:

If you’re interested in testing Dolores for your next machine learning project, feel free to reach out and we can get you set up.

Photo(s) of the Week

Photos: Mount Rainier, off Route 706; Ohanapecosh River

In This Week’s Edition:

  • NASA is sending the Perseverance rover to Mars this week (!!)

  • News from the Pentagon on U.F.O.s

  • Ben Evans on the future of technology regulation

  • The future of carbon capture

  • An Earth-like solar system captured by the E.S.O. telescope

  • Scott Galloway illustrates talking points for the U.S. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing

Mars 2020 Mission: Perseverance Rover

Under Administrator Jim Bridenstine, NASA has undergone a revitalization that takes advantage of the public-private partnership between government agencies and launch companies like SpaceX and U.L.A.

We’re going to Mars people!

The first launch window is on July 30th — you can watch it here on the NASA website.

The objectives of the mission include seek[ing] signs of ancient life, particularly in special rocks known to preserve signs of life over time.

No Longer in Shadows, Pentagon’s U.F.O. Unit Will Make Some Findings Public

Speaking of extraterrestrial life…

A Senate Committee Report has resurfaced the existence of a group within the Pentagon tasked with “standardize[d] collection and reporting” on sightings of unexplained aerial vehicles, with a report to the public within 180 days.

Here is the link to the full report (CMD-F “unidentified aerial phenomenon”)

This report comes after the release of videos earlier this year that displayed leaked tapes from a Navy pilot witnessing a highly unusual aerial phenomena.

From the New York Times article:

Mr. Elizondo is among a small group of former government officials and scientists with security clearances who, without presenting physical proof, say they are convinced that objects of undetermined origin have crashed on earth with materials retrieved for study.

Aliens would fit perfectly into 2020. Bring it on.

Regulating technology (Ben Evans)

Ben is on point here, as usual. Technology is going through the same regulatory throes that our financial and health systems experienced in the eighties and nineties. Highly specialized industries require specific laws, and technology is no different.

The inherently globalized nature of technology means that companies with global reach (👋🏼 Google & Facebook!) will need an army of compliance employees to keep up.

Move fast and break things will become “check with the legal team first.”

What if carbon removal becomes the new Big Oil?

This issue from The Economist provides a range of possible scenarios in which carbon sequestration companies become a massive industry. Each article is fiction, but rooted in science.

Carbon sequestration is a fascinating field that has the potential to get very large. For a great introduction, check out Y.C.’s page on Carbon, PM’ed by my friend Radu.

There are a few promising strategies for companies in this space:

  • Grow trees to capture carbon, and then burn them for energy without letting the carbon escape back into the atmosphere.

  • Take CO2 from the air and use it to create other materials.

  • Turn decaying organic material into a form of charcoal and bury it.

  • Reflect light from the Sun back into space (death ray!?)

First-Ever Image of a Multi-Planet System around a Sun-like Star Captured by E.S.O. Telescope

This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution.

Earth-like systems appear to be more common than we believed. The question remains: are we past the Great Filter?

As a bonus, check out this great video on how we may be able to use the Sun as a gravitational lens to take high-resolution photos of exoplanets.

Fire & Fawning (U.S. Antitrust)

Scott Galloway (Professor Marketing, NYU) includes a series of graphics in this week’s edition of “No Mercy, No Malice” that illustrate the dominance of the four largest U.S. technology companies. Some of my favorites include:

Thanks for reading,


Sunday Scaries is a newsletter that answers simple questions with surprising answers. The author of this publication is currently living from his car and traveling across the United States. You can subscribe by clicking the link below. 👇